The Resurrection and the Life: How Jesus Raises the Dead (A Sermon on John 11:17–44)

john03

The Resurrection and the Life: How Jesus Raises the Dead (A Sermon on John 11:17–44)

John’s Gospel is written so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31). And in John’s Gospel there are many ways eye-witnesses testify to Christ and many other ways John shows followers of Jesus coming to and growing in faith. In fact, John 11 is one of the key places where believers are pressed to believe and to believe more deeply.

For all Christians, there is a need to grow in faith. While God grants spiritual life and Christ-centered faith, living faith cannot stagnate. It must be exercised in order to grow. Even more, what faith God has given for today will not carry us into tomorrow or for the next ten years, unless it grows. Accordingly, we need daily grace for growing faith.

Wonderfully, God delights to uphold the faith of his saints. He who gives us faith in the new birth also gives us strength to keep believing. And Sunday’s sermon, I showed from John 11 how God grew the faith of Martha, Mary, and many others, as he raised Lazarus from the dead.

You can find the sermon here. You can also find last week’s sermon on John 11:1–16 here. I pray it may strengthen your faith as you continue to trust in the one who is the resurrection and the life.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Don’t Take the Bait: Three Reasons Pastors Must Avoid The Booby Trap of Pulpit Plagiarism

FM-mini-series-4x6-covers-768x1152

Earlier this year, Founders Press released my book Brothers, We Are Not Plagiarists. When it released Dave Jenkins at Servant of Grace asked me to write a related piece for his online theological magazine, Theology for Life. Here’s that piece, which likens plagiarism in the pulpit to a booby trap—an unseen explosive device that does untold damage to the un-expecting.

Let the reader understand, plagiarism in the pulpit is a big deal in the church. Since writing my book, I have received multiple emails reporting it, which only increases in my mind the need to address this subject. It is with sadness that I have received these reports. Yet, such incidents only reinforce the need for this book and for churches to dismantle the dangerous practice. May the Lord help pastors and churches do just that, and may this shorter article show why pulpit plagiarism matters so much.

********

Dad, what is a booby trap?

Recently, in conversation with one of my sons, the subject of guerilla warfare came up, which in turn led to explaining how booby traps have often been used in war. Because my son has not seen the classic primer on booby traps, the 1980s treasure-seeking adventure Goonies, I proceeded to explain some of the ways booby traps worked in during the Vietnam Conflict.

Speaking outside my area of expertise, I cobbled together some explanation that passed for the time. If I had to speak further on the subject, a quick Google search might lead me to a Field Army Manuel like this one. And in this case, I would share with my son the following facts that I learned from Chapter 13: Booby Traps and Expedient Devices. I’d also share the fact that I am quoting.

From the world wide web, we discover that booby traps

  • Are usually explosive in nature.
  • Are actuated when an unsuspecting person disturbs an apparently harmless object or performs a presumably safe act.
  • Are designed to kill or incapacitate.
  • Cause unexpected, random casualties and damage.
  • Create an attitude of uncertainty and suspicion in the enemy’s mind, thereby, lowering his morale and inducing a degree of caution that restricts or slows his movement.

Now what do booby traps have to do with preaching?

The answer is that booby traps are an apt illustration for plagiarism in the pulpit. Continue reading

How Sheep Get Saved: Jesus as the Door, the Good Shepherd, and the Sovereign Sacrifice (A Sermon on John 10:1–21)

john03How Sheep Get Saved: Jesus as the Door, the Good Shepherd, and the Sovereign Sacrifice (A Sermon on John 10:1–21)

In Luke 15 we come across a parable told by Jesus, directed at the Pharisees, where a shepherd leaves his ninety-nine sheep to go save the one lost sheep. In that parable Jesus says something about himself and the lost sheep he has come to save. Even more, in that parable, Jesus speaks against the Pharisees who have refused to find the lost sheep. Simultaneously, he reveals the kingdom he is bringing, a kingdom filled with lost sheep, now found by Christ.

Just in case you have not read Luke 15 in a while, here it is again.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

In Luke’s Gospel everyone agrees this is parable. Jesus is using sheep to speak about the conditions in Jerusalem, which he was going to change soon.

In John 10 we have a similar parable, though the word parable (parabolē) is replaced by the word “figure of speech” (paroimian, v. 6). Ironically, many who read Jesus’s words in verses 1–6 do not recognize the parabolic nature of Jesus’s language. Instead, they see his words about the sheep as a mere illustration or metaphor. But in so doing, these commentators miss the context of Jesus’ sharp words.

So let me begin by saying that on the last day of the Feast of Booths, Jesus addresses his adversaries, the ones seeking to kill him, and he tells a parable that describes God’s coming judgment on the temple courts of Jerusalem. At the same time, his parable identifies Jesus as the only Savior who can lead his sheep away from this impending disaster.

This is the context of John 10:1–6, and in these six verses, we find at least three reasons for reading this passage in this way.

First, Jesus is not speaking to shepherd-peasants. He is speaking to the leaders of Jerusalem (9:40–41). As we read in John 8–9, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who were leaders in Israel. And as John has shown from the beginning, when Jesus drove out the traders from the temple (John 2:13–22), Jesus is bringing a message of judgment against such false leaders.

So, as Jesus speaks here, he is not speaking literally about sheep and pens, he is using a figure of speech to condemn the shepherds in Jerusalem. And this is the second reason I don’t see vv. 1–6 as mere illustration. In verse 6 Jesus tells us how to interpret his words: “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

So Jesus’s opponents don’t understand his words. And like all the parables Jesus told, this was the purpose. The reason Jesus spoke in parables was to reveal and conceal, to save and judge. And so here, Jesus’s sheep hear his voice, but his enemies will be confounded. And this was as it was designed by God.

So again, Jesus is speaking to the false shepherds of Jerusalem, and second he is speaking in a parable to them. But then, third, Jesus is speaking of events foretold in the Old Testament.

That is to say that when Jesus spoke of shepherds, sheep, sheepfolds, and strangers, we was digging into a rich tradition of biblical imagery and biblical prophecy. As we read in Ezekiel 34, the reason why God brought judgment on Jerusalem was largely a result of shepherds fleecing the sheep and failing to protect the flock.

So too in Jesus day, the Jewish leaders were not protecting the flock from sin but were robbing them and defiling God’s house. And accordingly Jesus came with this figure of speech aimed directly at the priests. In short, it is a word filled with warning.

At the same time, it was a word filled with hope and salvation for those sheep who have ears to hear. In fact, as John 10 continues, Jesus explains further how he will bring salvation to his sheep, even as the judgment comes. And for those today seeking to find salvation, shelter, and security from a world under threat of God’s judgment, this chapter is filled with gospel promises.

On Sunday, our church considered these promises and what it means that Jesus is the Door (John 10:7, 9), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), and the Sovereign Sacrifice—the Son who had authority to lay down his life and take it back up again (John 10:17–18). Indeed, these are just some of the truths found in John 10:1–21 and you can hear the whole sermon here.

May the Lord continue to open the ears of his sheep, so that they are led from the courts of destruction to the eternal courts of God. This is the promise of John 10 and one we need today.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Great Reversal: God’s Cosmic Plan to Displace Darkness With Light (A Sermon on John 9:1-41)

john03The Great Reversal: God’s Cosmic Plan
To Displace Darkness With Light
(A Sermon on John 9:1-41)

In the Bible, we find a series of ironic reversals that move the story of salvation from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane to the Garden City of Zion.

For instance, when Haman was hung on his own gallows, on the very day that this enemy of God sought to destroy the Jews, God reversed the course of events and saved Israel and sentenced Haman to death (see the Book of Esther). This is but one biblical example of a last second, game-winning ironic reversal.

In Scripture, victories over giants (1 Samuel 17), plagues by night (2 Kings 19), deadly fish that become emissaries of salvation (Jonah) become common features of God’s salvation. Accordingly, God’s people begin to trust that God will bring light in moments of darkness. And more, God actually delights to make the dark darker, before bringing such moments of light-giving salvation.

So great is this pattern of salvation, that Mary could praise God for his promise to raise up the humble and knock down the proud, even as she faced a life of hardship of being the the mother of God (see Luke 1:46–56). Steeped in the Old Testament, the mother of Jesus prayed to God like Hannah (1 Samuel 2), and David (Psalm 18), and the prophets (see e.g., Isaiah 60). And not surprisingly, this pattern of ironic reversals culminates in the death and resurrection of her son, Jesus Christ. Killed at the hands of wicked men, it appeared that all  hope was lost. Holy Saturday was a dark day. But on the third day, just as God had long ago promised, Jesus rose from the grave, proving that the dark is not dark to God (Ps. 139:1–6).

Indeed, the promise of light shining in the dark is a theme that runs through the Bible and one that culminates in many ways in John 9. Following God’s pattern for ironic reversals, this chapter shows us how a man born in darkness (i.e., born blind) is brought to the light. Meanwhile, those who lit the torches in the temple and proclaimed to have the light, were, by their unbelief, consigned to darkness. And why the difference? Well, that is what John 9 reveals.

And on Sunday, John 9 is what we considered. Indeed, to those who think they have power and authority to rule by their own wisdom, Jesus teaches us that he will withdraw his light. But to those who walk in darkness crying out for light, God the Son delights to come and save. This is the great reversal that stands at the center of the world. And in this sermon, you can see what Christ’s light has to say to us, in a world seeking salvation by a Great Reset. In truth, we need a Great Reversal. And thankfully that is what Christ has given us.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Truth on Trial: Seeing Who You Are By Hearing the ‘I AM’ (John 8:48–59)

john03Here is a life principle: Trials tell you who you are.

How many of us have thought we were strong, smart, and self-sufficient, until the trial came. Likewise, how many continue to believe they are calm, cool, and collected, until the trial.

Trials in life can have names like Alice or Anthony, COVID or cancer, divorce or depression. But whatever the trial is, it is the God-given means by which he reveals who we are.

Such trial are all the more more pronounced, if they take off their metaphorical garb and put on the legal robes of a judge. Maybe you have seen some of the fall out since Roe was overturned by the Dobbs decision.

Resident Biden announced by Twitter that abortion needs to be ratified as law. Senator Elizabeth Warren said that we need to crack down on anti-abortion pregnancy centers. And as I was typing this very sentence, an email came in with an update on David Dalaiden and his 9 felony counts that exposed Planned Parenthood for selling the body parts of babies.

Here’s the point: Currently and in the near future, more Christians will face real and legal trials. Just ask Barronelle Stutzman Stutzman and Jack Phillips, two faithful disciples of Christ, whose public faith required legal defense. So too with the Dobbs decision their will come Christians whose faith leads them to various trials and law courts.

So I say again, trials tell you who you are. And lest we think that Christians should avoid courts at all cost, we should get used to the fact, that faithfulness in twenty-first century America will include legal battles. And these battles—for those on the witness stand and those praying and watching and waiting—will reveal the character of all parties in involved. Continue reading

The Crack in the Cosmos: Letting the Light of John 8:12–59 Expose the Divide in Humanity

brown and green grass field during sunset

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him,
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,
32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
— John 8:31–32 —

 I don’t know about you, but when I read lengthy dialogues in Scripture, especially in the Gospels, I find them hard to follow until I have a sense of structure of the argument. In John 8, this has been especially true. After Jesus announces that he is the light of the world (v. 12), his opponents (Pharisees in v. 13 and Jews in vv. 22, 31, 48, 52, 57) object, question, and reject his statements. Yet, this massive disputation is a jumble of back and forth, until you begin to see the order of the court.

As many commentators have observed, John’s Gospel has many elements of a trial in it. And if the whole book is a court case written to show that Jesus is the Son of God (John 20:31), it should not surprise us to find witnesses, evidence, and other elements of a law court. Indeed, that is how I take John 8:12–59, and in the outline included here, I offer a court case in two parallel parts.

Screen Shot 2022-06-30 at 12.48.41 PM

From this outline, let’s consider a couple things.

The Legal Brief in John 8

First, there is, in John 8:12–30, two arguments that run in parallel. This parallel is found in the order of the speech and the shape of the argumentation. Compare verses 12–19 and 20–27. In these two sections, we find Jesus making an opening statement in each. Remarkably these statements should be read together, and give us a sense of what the first trial is addressing. In verse 12, Jesus announces that he is the light coming into the world, and in verse 20 he says that he (the Light of the World) will be departing. Commiserate with so much in John, this trial is about Jesus and the light he brings.

Importantly, Jesus’s statement are met with hostile unbelief, expressed in two objections—one long, one short. This is how the trial proceeds until, in verses 28–30, Jesus points to his coming cross, when he will be lifted up. As verse 30 indicates, many believed in him, even though moments earlier (v. 27), they didn’t understand. So clearly, this faith lacks understanding, which Jesus will proceed to show as false.

Stopping here in the middle of the chapter, notice how this response of faith is the turning point of the chapter. Quite possibly, the faith of his hearers is based upon the hope that Jesus “lifting up” would be an exaltation to glory, which they might enjoy too. What Jesus has in mind with respect to his lifting up, however, is his coming crucifixion. But these disciples do not understand that (v. 27), they simply believe in Jesus for other purposes. This is a warning to us today and to any who believe in Jesus for their own reasons, not his.

In the context of John, we will see that the people of Israel were seekers of glory, and it seems Jesus’s words of lifting up could have invited such a misplaced faith. Accordingly, this is where the next section begins, as it moves to reveal the darkness of Jesus questioners. Like before, the second section has another mirrored debate, a legal dispute in two parts.

Verses 31–32 begins with another opening statement, but this time Jesus’s statement covers the two parts of the trial. As to the content of his statement, Jesus tells his would-be followers how they prove themselves them true. If they remain in his word, they will have life eternal, but if they refuse him and his words, they are false, darkened, and spiritually dead. Tragically, this is what the chapter proves.

Let’s following the argument in order. First, in vv. 31–47, the Jews ask three questions, to which Jesus responds three times. And in that legal debate, Jesus splits the difference between biological seeds of Abraham (which these Jews are) from spiritual heirs of Abraham (which these Jews are not). The result of this distinction is Jesus’s famous and forceful declaration that these “believers” are actually children of the devil. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (v. 44a).

Next, these devilish sons of Abraham accuse Jesus of demonic activity and Samaritan origins (v. 48), even as they reject his self-identification with Abraham. Again, this legal debate turns on three questions, followed by three responses from Jesus. Ironically, once identified with the devil, these interlocuters do the work of the accuser, questioning Jesus, his identity, and his eternity (i.e., his ancient knowledge of Abraham). But in context, all they do by questioning Jesus is to show their own spiritual ignorance and lifeless religion.

Consequently, when they pick up stones to throw at Jesus, a symbol that the trial has moved from deliberation to execution, John reveals that these accusers of Jesus are the ones who stand condemned by God. They do not know God and this is evident in the fact that they cannot recognize God’s Son. Accordingly, the chapter closes not with a guilty verdict for Jesus, but a guilty verdict for his legal opponents.

All in all, John uses a tight literary structure to lead the reader to see what he is doing. And more, he reveals who Jesus is by contrasting him with those who accuse him. Jesus is the light of the world who will be extinguished on the cross, so that in the light of his resurrection, all who truly believe in him will be saved. Yet, such faith does not come from the selfish will of men who want to glorify themselves by Jesus. Saving faith comes to those who are truly heirs of Abraham, sheep who hear Jesus voice, and children born of God.

John 8 and the Crack in the Cosmos

The division between biological seeds and spiritual heirs is a division, a crack in the cosmos, that ranges across the whole of humanity. And in John, this spiritual division between two kinds of people is seen by paying attention to the trial. In questioning and condemning Jesus, the Jewish leaders show themselves to be men of darkness. By contrast, those who abide in the words of Christ will walk in the light, as he is in the light, because God gives light to those who are children of light.

Again, this spiritual division is what we face in every conflict—whether familial, ecclesial, societal, legal, or political. As Jesus teaches, there are two kinds of people in the world. And as John 8, the sides are determined by God and detected by how one responds to the Son. Ultimately, John 8 reveals much about who Jesus is, but it also reveals much about who we are.

With that realization in mind, let us seek God’s mercy and pray for his light to lead us to Christ. Jesus is the light of the world, and if you rejoice in his light, he will reveal to you his truth, and his truth alone will set you free. Just as he says in John 8:31–32.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

On Dobbs and the Growing Rift in America: Why Only a Spiritual Answer Explains the Division 

abortion[Photo Credit: Not The Bee]

June 24 is a date that all Christians should now mark on their calendar.

For nearly half a century, January 22 was the day that remembered the decision to make abortion available throughout America. And since the decision of Roe v. Wade in 1973, January 22 has been a day of prayer, petition, and planning for the end of Roe. And now, that prayer has been answered. Glory be to God!

On Friday, when the Supreme Court decided that Roe was not constitutional, they gave us a new day on the calendar to remember the sanctity of life and to give thanks to God for his mercy. June, a month co-opted for gay pride, has returned the rainbow, if for a moment, to its rightful owner—the God of mercy who does not give us what we deserve (see Genesis 9). More on the rainbow another day.

For now, it is worth remembering how the removal of Roe has been a rallying point for Pro-Life Christians for decades. And now that Roe has been overturned, we should give thanks to God for answering our prayers, and we should honor all those who sacrificed in order to make it happen.

Simultaneously, we should acknowledge the ways that elections have tangible consequences. In the election of Donald Trump, evangelicals supported this polarizing figure not because of his skin color, personal faith, or Twitter personality (definitely not his Twitter), but because of promises like this:

Incredibly, he fulfilled those promises. And Roe is now history.

At the same time, Roe’s end should bring incrementalists and abolitionists closer together, as they work to implement laws which protect life. Abolitionists should give thanks for the work incrementalists have done to end Roe, and incrementalists should take up the challenge set out by abolitionists to legislate equal protection under the law. Far more could be accomplished if these two approaches to abortion would work together.

Still, this post and the sermon that follows are less about abortion qua abortion. Rather, they are a biblical reflection on the spiritual warfare that fuels the battle over abortion. Indeed, as already evidenced by 41 cases of vandalism against pro-life groups, Christians should be ready for the increasing hostility that will come with the Dobbs decision. This is the point I want to make here.

Continue reading

Go And Preach No More? Six Contextual Problems With John 7:53–8:11

close up shot of bible text

Few passages in the Bible are more beloved than the story of the adulterous woman being brought to Jesus, condemned by the scribes and Pharisees, and then set free by the wisdom and compassion of Christ. At the same time, few passages in the Bible are more debated. Should John 7:53–8:11 be included in the Bible, or not?

In the early church, it was recognized that this passage was not present in the earliest Greek manuscripts. And Augustine and others suggested that the teaching in the passage is what led to exclusion. In On Adulterous Marriages (2.7.6), he writes, “Some men of slight faith” and others “hostile to true faith” removed the passage for fear that it would encourage adultery.[1]

In the modern era, the problem of the Pericope Audulterae (PA)[2] has not been a matter of questionable ethics, so much as questionable evidence. As most translations admit, “The earliest manuscripts does not include John 7:53–8:11” (ESV). Likewise, a majority of evangelical scholars also question the inclusion of this passage in the Bible. See, for instance, Daniel Wallace, Jim Hamilton, and a list of others.

On the other hand, there are biblical scholars who do argue for the inclusion of the PA in the biblical canon. This would include advocates of the King James Version, Majority Text advocates, and others who would point to the Byzantine text tradition. For instance, Maurice Robinson, a retired professor from SEBTS, who is not KJV-Only, has done the most extensive work on this subject.[3] And he has made the case for including this passage as original.

Still this is the minority report. And accordingly, Bible readers and preachers are left to wonder: How do we handle this text? Continue reading

Blessed are the Un-Offended: For They are the Elect of God (John 6:60–71)

john03

Blessed are the Un-Offended: For They are the Elect of God (John 6:60–71)

Blessed is he who is not offended by me.
— Matthew 11:6 —

These are the words Jesus spoke to John the Baptist, when John sent his disciples to Jesus asking this question: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

If you have never considered the pain of John’s words, it is worth time to ponder.

In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist is introduced as a faithful witness to Christ—a witness who so longed for the kingdom of God that he is willing to lose his kingdom. In John 3:30 he says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” These are the words John declared, when his disciples came asking him about Jesus and the fact that more people were following him.

With humble faith, John accepted his role as a friend of the bridegroom and thus when the groom arrived, John rightly and righteously slipped out of the way. In fact, after John 3 the Baptist is not heard from again in John’s Gospel.

Nevertheless, this does not mean we do not know the rest of the story. Because we do! In Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9, we have the report that John was beheaded by Herod the tetrarch after his wife’s daughter requested decapitation as a party trick.

Yet, before his execution, Matthew 11 records the words that John sent to Jesus, as the forerunner to the Lord lay imprisoned, awaiting his deliverance or his death. And why does John ask his question about who he is? Is it because John doesn’t know Jesus, or believe him to be the Son of God? No, it is because things are not going as John anticipated! Continue reading

Soul Food: When, Who, What, and Why Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:22–40)

john03

Soul Food: When, Who, What, and Why Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:22–40)

Hunger is a universal experience. So is thirst. And so is seeking to find food and drink in times of need.

Importantly, God made us creatures who need food and drink. And he did this not only because that is how organisms live, but that’s how God works. In other words, by giving us thirst, hunger, and the experience of seeking physical satisfaction, God is teaching us something about himself.

God is our spiritual food!

In John 6, this comes to the forefront as seekers cross the Sea of Galilee to find Jesus and fill their stomachs. Only in this case, Jesus exposes their errant seeking and he in turn leads them to seek food that will not perish.

Indeed, so many of our sins, follies, frustrations, and setbacks are caused by not knowing how to live on Christ, to feed on Christ, and to delight ourselves in Christ. But when we come to Christ and seek life in him, he teaches us that he is the bread of eternal life. And all who feed on him will be saved.

On Sunday, I considered what this means in John 6:22–40. You can find the sermon here. You can also find last weeks sermon too. Next week, Lord willing, I’ll pick up the sacramental language of Jesus calling us to eat his body and drink his blood. Stay tuned.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds